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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 03/25/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 38, Whole Number 1903
Table of Contents
Electrical Adaptors (cartoon):
This cartoon is apposite to the discussion of electrical adaptors in the 03/18/16 issue of the MT VOID:
Science-Related Exhibit at the Zimmerli Art Museum (NJ) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
For those in New Jersey, there is a special exhibit of possible interest at the Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick. It is titled "Dreamworlds and Catastrophes: Intersections of Art and Science in the Dodge Collection". ("The Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection" is the Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union, though I thought I saw at least one from Poland.)
This is not a large exhibit--about fifty works in four rooms--and many seem to have little science (e.g. Boris Mikhailov's "Red"). Indeed, science (or at least science history) is not the strong point of the person writing the wall texts: one says that after Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth on April 12, 1961, "The United States sent Alan Shepard (1923-1998) into orbit less than one month later, on May 5."
However, there are at least a dozen works of real interest to science fiction and space history fans. Some look very much like the art one finds on book covers in the United States.
My particular favorite was "Peace to All Planets" by Marina Printseva, for its conjunction of traditional and futuristic themes.
The exhibit will run until July 31 in the Dodge Gallery at the museum. Admission is free; parking is metered on-street (and empty spaces seem fairly easy to find). The hours and information about the museum in general are on the website: http://www.zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu.
The Strange World of Planet X (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Okay, there are folks out there who were disappointed by Pluto being demoted from being a whole gosh-darn official planet to a mere dwarf planet. Now there is evidence of yet another chunk of matter out there as being a ninth planet. Right now the evidence is tenuous, but there is some chance of there being a brand new ninth planet. It may have been there all along but it has never been seen. And it may never be seen from Earth's orbit.
The thing is that it is a very long way out. It is thirty billion miles from the sun. So that is two hundred times as far from the sun as we are. That means the sun would "shine" (if that is still the right word) only 1/40,000th as strongly as it does where we are. Out there the sun would probably just be a rumor. What are the chances we could see any light reflected by a planet that far out? Pretty much non-existent unless we are looking straight at it, are intentionally looking for it, and you got someone behind you telling you that is what you are looking at.
Each of the planets we grew up with was discovered by light from the sun striking the planet and reflecting back off and being detected by telescope. Our new planet--call it Planet X--cannot be seen so directly. Not at 200 AU out, it can't. An AU or "astronomical unit" is 93,000,000 miles. That is just about the distance from the Earth to the sun by an odd coincidence. Not.
So a new kind of argument has to be made for why there is evidence of a planet too far out to be seen. We cannot see what might be Planet X but we can see six big chunks of ice. They were discovered over the last twelve years. And they were discovered to have elliptical orbits around the sun, with the sun at one focus.
Well, to be honest they are moving tiny segments of the ellipse. They have not had time to trace out too much of the ellipse.
So far that is not a lot strange. And each of these ellipses has a short axis and a long axis. Well, the math guarantees that. But for four of the big icy objects the long axes are in a small bundle like arrows in a quiver. Now that seems kind of unlikely. At least it probably would not happen by pure chance. But what could cause them to align (and I cannot claim to understand the math) is that there is a massive object out there lining them up. That would be our Planet X.
The chances of the orbits being so closely aligned as they are are about seventy in a one million. That is a little surprising, certainly, but stranger things have happened merely by chance. Planet X may actually be in sight but may never have been noticed because it was so dim and nobody has known where to aim a telescope. Even so faint an object might be noticeable if seen long enough. It takes time and probably some funding. Two telescopes that are planned to be dedicated to the search at least for a while are the Victor Blanco telescope in Chile and the Subaru telescope in Hawaii.
Now I know what you are thinking. Here you had all that faith that Pluto was a full planet and it turned out to be only a dwarf planet that did not clean out its orbit. That is the requirement: a planet must clean up its orbit or it is not massive enough to earn the right to be called a honest-to-goodness planet. Is Planet X big enough that it will not disappoint you? Well have no fear. Projections say that Planet X has 5000 times the mass of Pluto. That is more than enough mass to not only clean up its orbit but to leave a chocolate on the pillow. I was kidding about that second part, of course.
The astrophysicists who are suggesting the existence of this new planet are Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology. So if you are happy that there are nine planets, just as you learned in third grade, you can thank Konstantin Batygin. You have to decide if you are going to thank Mike Brown or not. You see his major claim to fame at this point is that he is the person who decided that Pluto was not a planet. That is interesting, isn't it? It is like a law of conservation. He found the solar system with nine planets and if all this is right he will leave the solar system with nine planets. It is just a different set. But it is nine planets either way. We live in what is called "an orderly universe."
If you want to read more about the new planet, you could do worse than http:/tinyurl.com/mtv-planetx.
MOMENTS OF CLARITY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Apparently-autistic and flighty Claire is considered the "nut" of the neighborhood, even when she goes around delivering her baked muffins to near-strangers. Now she gets to see some of the rest of the world. A trip to a store with her pastor's daughter turns into an extended road trip when the two personalities clash. Both women will learn about family secrets and will gain an appreciation for each other. The plot is rather generic and familiar but there are moments good humor and, yes, clarity. Stev Elam directs a script by Christian Lloyd and Kristin Wallace. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Claire (played by Kristin Wallace, who co-authored) is in her mid- twenties and is the pariah of most of her neighborhood. She is obsessively merry as she flits around on the street, but where she goes disasters seem to follow. Nearly everyone she knows shuns her presence. And just as cheerful as Claire is, so is Claire's mother Henrietta (Saxon Trainor) dour. The mother thinks of little but danger and of her own fears. Then there is Danielle (Lyndsy Fonseca), the daughter of Claire's minister, Pastor Paul (Mackenzie Astin). She has some sympathy for Claire, but is uninterested in a deep friendship.
As she often seems to be, Claire is at the wrong place at the wrong time resulting in a hit-and-run driver causing the destruction of Danielle's Super 8 camera. Somehow Danielle accepts the blame that should have gone to the driver. The two women agree to go to a nearby town to replace the camera. Instead their trip turns into an unexpectedly long and emotional drive of mutual and self- discovery.
Claire lives in a Twilight-Zone-ish world in which nearly everyone seems to be just a bit off-kilter. Claire is considered strange, but there is enough bizarre in the town to go around. Every male her age Claire meets seems obsessed with his own sex kinks. One exception, however, is Trevor (A. J. Rauth) whose only eccentricity is playing a ukulele in a restroom. Trevor complicates Claire's relationship with Danielle.
The characters' behaviors are strange, but are not really consistent. Henrietta is debilitated by her fear of the outside world, but later seems to function in it reasonably well. Inconsistent behavioral quirks seem dropped on the characters at random. The story is about as predictable as what day of the week tomorrow will be. The script strives to leave the viewer feeling good, but not in a particularly believable way. This is a film that relies heavily on a suspension of disbelief in the characters. And perhaps we have had enough films in which psychological problems are considered cute and funny. I rate moments of clarity a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. MOMENTS OF CLARITY will have its US release on March 30, 2016.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3359754/combined
CAMINO (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: What at first appears to be a film making a serious political statement gives up the effort and becomes a standard jungle action movie. It is not really bad for a chase in the jungle movie. It just fails to do much unexpected. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
CAMINO begins as if it is going to be making a serious political statement about international politics and Europe and America's possible complicity in South American troubles. One can follow the story with the best of expectations, but at the halfway point of the film it turns into an action film with less interest in making a statement than in being a one-dimensional and gory action film.
One clue might have been that the main character is played by stuntwoman and actress Zoe Bell. She is not known for statement films other than those making the statement that men do not have a monopoly on action roles. Incidentally, apparently Bell is popular with Quentin Tarantino as she has been in an incredible eleven of his films. You know for sure that this film is not even trying to be serious when you have women on the run from a war criminal who commits atrocities and somehow they find the time to argue over whom he loves. In spite of the film's more ridiculous moments, Bell adds some stability to the narrative.
Bell plays Avery Taggart, a prize-winning international photo- journalist. She is given the assignment of covering a missionary leader fighting in Colombia for liberation. Sadly once she gets to Colombia the plot gets rather transparent. Of course the trailer makes the upcoming plot just as obvious. The script seems underwritten and is a rush job, reportedly written in just two days. While the film seems to want to deliver a message, when it finally comes out it is that one very-fast-healing woman photojournalist can out-think and out-fight a band of atrocity- committing men from the liberation forces. Nacho Vigalondo plays the guerilla leader Guillermo. He somewhat over-powers his role, but that may really be a necessary part of Bell's motivation. Taggert goes from one fight to another spilling a lot of red-orange blood and then quickly recovering on the run. None of this is Bell's fault and she certainly stands out as the best thing in the film.
Josh C. Waller directs from a script by Daniel Noah. The chase in the screenplay seems to have been cobbled together from used parts available from better (and worse) films. The film is neither as serious nor as entertaining as it was trying to be. The road in CAMINO is well-traveled. I rate it a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. CAMINO is on VOD and iTunes as of March 8, 2016.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4991652/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/camino_2016/
You Just Can't Trust Those Time Travelers
The headline reads, "Four Sets of Identical Twins Staged a Time Travel Prank on an NYC Subway":
A fuller story is at:
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Borges en "Sur" (part of Miscelánea, ISBN 978-8-499-89204-7) is a large collection of the hundred and twenty or so articles from the legendary magazine Sur between 1931 and 1980 that were not included in the canonical Obras completas. (A few of them have appeared in English-language collections such as Other Inquisitions and Selected Non-Fictions.) The topics are wide-ranging, from Mark Twain to G. K. Chesterton, from the Buddha to The Petrified Forest, from World War II to Lolita. What a treasure trove!
"La biblioteca total [The Total Library]": Borges traces the history of this concept, observing in passing that one does not require Huxley's half dozen monkeys with typewriters to eventually produce all the books in the British Museum, just one immortal monkey. (Well, actually, the half dozen would probably have to be just as immortal.)
"Wells, Previsor": This is primarily a commentary on the film Things to Come. Borges writes, "A Wells le desagradan los tiranos peros los laboratorios le gustan; de ahí su previsió de que los hombres de laboratorio se juntaraán para zurcir el mundo destrozado pos los tiranos. La realidad no se parece aún a su profecía; en 1936, casi toda la fuerza de los tiranos deriva de su posesión de la técnica. Wells venera los chaffeurs y los aviadores; la ocupación tíranica de Abisinia fue obra de los aviadores y los chauffers..." ["Wells was offended by tyrants but was pleased by laboratories; his prediction was that the scientists would join together in order to mend the world destroyed by the tyrants. The reality still had not manifested itself in his prophecy: in 1936, almost all the power of the tyrants derived from their possession of technology. Wells venerated the chaffeurs and the flyers; the tyrannical occupation of Abyssinia was the work of the flyers and the chauffeurs."] "Chauffeurs" is in the original; I by this imagine Borges meant drivers of tanks and other armored vehicles. Borges also observes that "the memorable lines of the book do not correspond (cannot correspond) to the memorable moments of the film."
Verdes Prederas [Green Pastures]: Borges describes the premise of Green Pastures by asking his (Argentinian) readers to imagine the Bible transposed into "la literatura gauchesca." This in a nutshell captures the problem of translation: how do you take a work steeped in one culture and make it comprehensible to readers (or viewers) of another? However, Borges then says that this "bodrio bíblico-cimarrón" ("Biblical-Wild West muddle") is precisely what Green Pastures is not, and how awful that would be. Then, years later, Borges would write "The Gospel According to Mark", which creates a similar combination of a Biblical story and the "Wild West" of Argentina.
"Un film abrumador" ["An overwhelming film"]: Of Citizen Kane, Borges writes (in 1941), "I dare to guess that doubtless Citizen Kane will endure as certain films of [D. W.] Griffith or of [Vsevolod] Pudovkin "endure", whose historical value no one denies, but that no one cares to see again." Well, I think he was clearly wrong on that one.
"John Hadfield, Modern Short Stories, Dent": When a review begins, "Either the art of writing short stories has disappeared completely from English literature or Hadfield is the most incompetent of anthologists," you know it is not good. (That Borges points out that the two are not mutually exclusive does not help.) What is interesting is the list of authors that Borges notes are not represented (and hence implies that they should be): H. G. Wells, Ernest Bramah, and Lord Dunsany.
A Short History of Culture by Jack Lindsay: The selections Borges gives indicate that this is a very strange book. For example, Lindsay writes that Paradise Lost "is an allegorical declaration of the evils of capitalism." And, "In the hypotheses of the deniers of Einstein there are elements that proceed from the individualistic tendencies of a decadent capitalism." And in Gulliver's Travels, "the final glorification of the horse, of the beast of burden, is an allegorical vindication of the working classes in whom the author sees the only hope of the world."
Duodecimal Arithmetic by George S. Terry: I am not sure which is stranger, this book of complete tables for use with the duodecimal system, or the act that it was reviewed in a literary magazine. Borges begins by claiming that the most "complete" ("ad usum deprum vel dei," he says) has an infinite number of symbols--one for each integer--and the most simple has two (0 and 1). (The latter was apparently invented by Leibnitz in 1690.) Borges seems to exclude an even simpler one, that with only one symbol (as in the first three numbers in the Roman system: I, II, and III). He also mentions in passing the base-20 system which apparently lingers on in the naming of some numbers in French.
Borges contrasts this book with New Numbers by Emerson Andrews by saying Terry is not polemical (implying that Andrews is). But while Borges appears to agree that the duodecimal system makes things easier mathematically, he says, "The major obstacle is this: in almost all languages, the spoken number system is decimal. But he ends, "Perhaps this book ... will annul or temper the counter-arguments." This was written in 1939; so far, this has not happened.
After Many a Summer by Aldous Huxley: The title in English is often given as After Many a Summer Dies the Swan. Borges gives a précis of immortality (or at any rate, very extended lifespans) in fiction: the Struldbergs of Gulliver's Travels, Back to Methuselah by George Bernard Shaw, Mr. Elvesham of H. G. Wells, and She by H. Rider Haggard. He also cites Thomas Henry Huxley as saying that the notion of original sin, the innate depravity of man, and so on, seems much more reasonable than the notion are born good and pure and later deteriorate. Huxley also sees evolution as something that will eventually reverse itself, and Borges says that this is the premise of this novel.
Complete Poetry and Selected Prose by John Milton: Borges decries that this volume, like all the preceding editions of Milton, fails to capture the totality, or even true essence, of Milton. While the "[editors] of the 19th century corrected the punctuation and orthography of the 16th, [and] the more recent retained them," none of them had more critical commentary than biographical notes and translations of Milton's Latin. Borges refers to Milton's posthumous work on Christian doctrine, in which Milton "denies the immortality of the soul, the eternal existence of the Son, the Trinity, or that God created the world." Milton's heretical views are somewhat more well-known now, but one suspects they are still omitted from editions of his work for the general public. (Or is the notion of an edition of Milton for the general public a contradiction in terms?)
Philosophy and Living by Olaf Stapledon: Borges thinks this a far better book about philosophy than many that Spanish editors praise, but he does say that there are things in it he disagrees with--for example, whether Alfred North Whitehead's or Bertrand Russell's introduction to mathematics is more readable. Borges gives one example of Stapledon's approach. Stapledon cites Russell "thought experiment" which supposes the universe was created just a few minutes ago, and everyone's memories along with it. Stapledon suggests going Russell one better: the universe consist of only one person (or even better, only one consciousness) and everything in the universe, including memories, histories, etc., was created in that one consciousness. Stapledon treats this as a reductio ad absurdum; Russell considered it rational, but uninteresting.
Monkshood by Eden Phillpotts: I am unfamiliar with this particular novel. However, Borges's observation that the plots of most mystery novels could be related in five minutes, but the novelist has to fill three hundred pages, is both more wide-ranging, and overly optimistic. (Well, I suppose that mystery novels may not have gotten as bloated as fantasy and science fiction novels have, and they rarely come as trilogies.) There are still, of course, some short stories being written in the mystery field, but I think it fair to say that the Golden Age of mystery short stories is over. (Oh, in Spanish, mysteries are "novelas policiales," which seems to imply the requirement of having the police involved, yet many stories we consider mysteries are totally police-, and indeed, crime-free.)
The New Adventures of Ellery Queen by Ellery Queen and The Black Spectacles by John Dickson Carr: Borges is quite dismissive of Ellery Queen, but quite favorable towards the locked-room mysteries of Carr.
Canto a mí mismo by Walt Whitman (translation by León Felipe): Borges writes that although many critics say that "of all the versions of a book, the most recent is the best," but in the case of Felipe's translation, it is error-filled and periphrastic (i.e., using more words when fewer would do). Giving an example is tricky. Borges gives several, with his translation of Whitman and then Felipe's. I will give one, with Whitman's original, Borges's translation, Felipe's translation, and my translation of Felipe. From "Song of Myself", 40:
At eleven o'clock began the burning of the bodies; That is the tale of the murder of the four hundred and twelve young men. [Whitman] A las once de la mañana empazaron a quemar las cadáveres; Ésta es la relacióon del asesinato de los cuatrocientos doce muchachos. [-Borges] A las once comenzaron a incinerar los cadáveres. Y ésta es la historia del asesinato a sangre fría, de aquellos cuatrocientos doce soldados, gloria de los Guardias Montañeses, tal como la contaban en Texas cuando yo era muchacho. [-Felipe] At eleven began the burning of the bodies. And this is the history of the murder in cold blood, of those four hundred twelve soldiers, the glory of the Guardia Montañeses(*), as it was told in Texas when I was a boy.(*) I have no idea how the army of the Montaña region in Spain got to the Alamo.
El cuento del perdonador by Chaucer (Prologue and translation by Patricio Gannon): In a footnote, Borges discusses more variations in translation. Apparently, various translators of "The Pardoner's Tale" into Spanish have chosen many different words or phrases for the title character: perdonador, bulero, buldero, vendedor de indulgencias, mercader de perdones, echacuervos.
"El oficio de traducir": This sums up a lot of the problems of translation When translating poetry, word choice and word order are very important, so literalness would seem to be the goal. Yet "Buenas noches" should not be translated As "Good nights," and "Good morning" is not "Buena(s) mañana(s)." Germanic languages have compound words, while Latinate languages do not (except as neologisms). So Shakespeare's "world-weary flesh" becomes "carne cansada del mundo"--not the same at all. Similarly, the Spanish "sentadita" has no real English equivalent, which seems to be a combination of "seated" and "abandoned", sort of like a girl brought to a dance and then left sitting on the sidelines the whole time.
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I used to be Snow White, but I drifted. --Mae WestTweet
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